Thursday, 30 June 2011

Cycles of life

My mother-in-law has been in hospital now for over 14 weeks. Initially at Warwick Hospital and subsequently moved to a smaller, cottage hospital, where the care has been exemplary. We have seen the worst (well, almost) and the best of the NHS.

By the way, I feel that the best the NHS offers is when good, qualified, reliable and experienced nursing staff are allowed to do their job with pride and not be 'controlled' by faceless, penny-pushing managers.

Despite having radiotherapy for a brain tumour (she's had, and has been treated for cancer for the past 6+ years), the treatments have not worked and we're in that awful situation where the most that can be done is to keep her as comfortable as possible. A reaction to the steroids didn't help, neither did a bout of shingles.

We kept thinking she'd be recovering "if only she'd get over the steroid side-effects..." and then "if only she'd get over the shingles...", but the reality then hit us all, that she's not going to get better. She's been in bed all this time, unable to even sit up, and nowadays, increasingly uncomfortable.

She has good days and not-so-good days. It's strange how the extra-ordinary, even the shocking can become your new 'normal'.

She used to come over and stay with us on a Tuesday night when she went out with a friend, but now I'm thinking, "she'll never come round and sleep in that bed again..." and "she'll never put the cutlery back in the wrong drawer and make us 'tut'!".

In her garden, there are some beautifully fragrant roses. In fact, I think they have the most wonderful, rosy, fruity scent I've ever smelt. It was such a shame that she wouldn't be able to see them or smell them, so her husband cut some flowers and took them into her.

She's a wonderful woman. Incredibly brave and well loved by family and friends. We are all suffering with her, but I am mindful that life is a part of a bigger journey.

Here are some of the magnificent roses in Anne and John's garden - I can almost smell the scent from the photos!




Friday, 24 June 2011

What makes a salve different from an ointment, and different from a balm?

When you start getting into herbalism, you do have to start learning some terms which may be unfamiliar to most. You'll probably be able to guess what an 'infused oil' is, but what about a tincture or an elixir as opposed to an electuary?

With a good teacher and/or some good books, all will become clear in due course - there's no need to rush! I suggest starting in a small way and make sure you enjoy yourself.

Over at 'Whispering Earth', Lucinda has put up a article about salves, ointments and balms with some useful recipes too, including a basic vegan salve recipe. This does throw up one of the issues I've covered before which is the use of beeswax and being a vegan...

In a nutshell, the Vegan Society decreed in 1988 that vegans should not use or consume beeswax or honey. Until then, it was considered OK and in fact I have some old vegan cookery books which include honey as an ingredient in a few recipes. I completely understand their point of view - there are many unethical beekeepers whether they are small-scale or industrial and without doubt, bees are exploited. On the other hand, the alternatives to beeswax are often exotic plant waxes that have travelled many thousands of miles to get to the UK and may have dubious farming/harvesting practices. So, is it better to find a good, local beekeeper who could supply you with some beeswax rather than use one of the alternatives? Of course, if it was possible not to have to use beeswax or the alternatives at all, that would be great, but realistically that's not the case.

At the moment, I don't use honey. I would use it medically, but only where there was no alternative. I currently don't make salves, but if I did, I think I would probably try to locate a local, ethical beeswax supplier rather than the exotic plant waxes purely for sustainability/environmental reasons. There would be no circumstances that I'd use animals fats - period!


Candelilla wax (above) is often used as an alternative to beeswax in balms and other goods. It's native to northern Mexico and parts of the USA. So if you live in that part of the world, it's probably quite a sustainable thing to use (if you know it's origin).

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